• Building evacuated after a gas leak in Westfield

    Westfield Police evacuated a nearby building as a precaution.

    WESTFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Part of East Mountain Road in Westfield was closed Wednesday morning due to a brief gas leak.

    Westfield Gas and Electric Customer Service Manager Sean Fitzgerald told 22News an authorized contractor hit a gas main in the road, while working in the area for a project on a new building on the road.

    Fitzgerald said Westfield Gas and Electric quickly isolated the leak, and it never affected service to homes or businesses. Westfield Police evacuated a nearby building as a precaution.

    East Mountain Road was closed from Springfield Road, or Route 20, to Papermill Road for about an hour, and was reopened around 10:30 a.m.


  • Lawyer’s request to dismiss McStay slaying case rejected

    Charles Merritt
    Charles Merritt

    A motion to dismiss the capital murder case against Charles “Chase” Merritt in the beating deaths of a Fallbrook family of four was denied Friday by a San Bernardino Superior Court judge, paving the way for trial to commence by the end of the year.

    Merritt, 58, of Homeland, was arrested Nov. 5, 2014, and charged with murder in the deaths of Joseph McStay, 40, his wife, Summer, 43, and their two children, Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3. The family disappeared on Feb. 4, 2010, and the story drew national media attention.

    Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Merritt.

    Merritt maintains his innocence, and his attorney, Jimmy Mettias, sought dismissal of the case on jurisdictional grounds, arguing in a motion filed with the court that prosecutors, in their criminal complaint, allege the crimes occurred in San Bernardino County. That contradicts the prosecution’s belief that the McStay family was beaten to death with a 3-pound sledgehammer in their home in San Diego County on or about Feb. 4, 2010, Mettias said.

    “It does indeed hamper our ability to defend Mr. Merritt because it ties to the theory of the case; what’s the theory of the case here?” Mettias said at Friday’s hearing before Judge Michael A. Smith.

    Prosecutors maintain that jurisdiction can be anywhere involving a criminal act, whether it is where a fatal injury was inflicted or in the county in which the injured party died or in the county in which his or her body was found.

    Smith concurred with prosecutors Britt Imes and Sean Daugherty, saying that jurisdiction in a murder case can be either where the bodies of the victim or victims were found or where the victim/victims were killed.

    “The disposing of the bodies is part of the crime, so, once the bodies are disposed of in a particular county, at least part of the crime is committed, carried out or completed in that county,” Smith said. “So that does give the county — San Bernardino County — jurisdiction.”

    In November 2013, a man riding his dirt bike in the Mojave Desert near Victorville — north of Stoddard Wells Road and west of the 15 Freeway — discovered human skeletal remains. Investigators subsequently unearthed two shallow graves, with two sets of skeletal remains in each grave. The remains were confirmed to be those of the McStay family.

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    According to search warrant affidavits filed in the case and testimony from Merritt’s preliminary hearing in June, prosecutors believe Merritt was a man deep in debt to Joseph McStay and the IRS for unpaid taxes and afflicted with a gambling addiction.

    He allegedly killed the McStay family for financial gain, forging checks on Joseph McStay’s QuickBooks business account to the tune of more than $15,000, cashing them and going on a gambling spree at casinos in San Bernardino, Riverside and Los Angeles counties in the weeks after the McStay family was last seen alive.

    Merritt was a former business associate of Joseph McStay, who built custom decorative water fountains for McStay’s online company, Earth Inspired Products. According to court documents and testimony, Joseph McStay was dissatisfied with Merritt’s work performance and upset over $30,000 Merritt owed him for a gambling debt, and McStay was planning to fire Merritt.

    Also on Friday, Imes told Judge Smith that he and prosecutor Sean Daugherty were alerted by court staff that there was a media inquiry about “the propriety of media coverage by Mettias,” specifically, Mettias’ tweeting about the case, and whether or not that was appropriate under the rules of professional conduct.

    “Due to the nature of the proceedings, I think it’s imperative for the record, that that inquiry be made part of the record, copies be provided to counsel, and that maybe there is a discussion about what is appropriate publicity in such a case,” Imes said.

    Smith agreed to have the email from the media outlet that made the inquiry printed, provided to both the prosecution and defense, and entered into the court record.

    Smith scheduled the next pretrial hearing for Sept. 4, and Merritt waived his trial date to within 60 days of that hearing.

    After Friday’s hearing, Mettias said he has done absolutely nothing wrong, and that there was nothing unethical about the comments he has made publicly about the case or the information he has divulged. He said his actions are in line with the California Rules of Professional Conduct.

    “The rules of professional responsibility specifically state that an attorney may respond to mitigate any damage done to his client when it comes to the district attorney making this case very public and publicizing Mr. Merritt’s alleged guilt in the way that they have, so I find it very disingenuous,” Mettias said.

     

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